Sigh of Relief in Doklam: India-China Crisis Cools Off, For Now


After more than two months of Indian and Chinese troops eyeing each other warily just yards away over remote, disputed lands in the Himalayas, the so-called Doklam Standoff appears to have fizzled out.

Monday the Indian foreign ministry said that after lengthy diplomatic consultations with China, the "expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is on-going."

A spokesperson for China's foreign ministry said Tuesday that India had removed its troops from what it called "Chinese sovereign territory." The spokesperson said China's border troops are continuing their patrols of the area, but the spokesperson sidestepped a question about whether China will continue with its plans for a road there.

As Code and Dagger reported, construction of a road was the inciting incident for the crisis that drew contingents from two of the world's most powerful militaries dangerously close to a scuffle in the Himalayas.

Doklam sits near the intersection of the borders of China, India and the tiny, India-friendly nation of Bhutan. In mid-June, the Chinese army began constructing a road on land it said was Chinese territory, designed to "improv[e] the local transportation and facilitat[e] local herdsmen's grazing of livestock and border troops patrolling."

"It is normal activity of China in its own territory which is completely lawful and legitimate," the Chinese government said early in the crisis.

Bhutan, however, said the road was being built in Bhutanese territory and in violation of longstanding agreements that say that at the very least, Bhutan and China had promised to refrain from changing the "status quo" in the boundary area with unilateral actions.

India, which sided with Bhutan, said its "personnel" happened to be in the area and "approached the Chinese construction party and urged them to desist from changing the status quo."

The Chinese took this as an invasion of sorts and demanded India remove its more than 270 troops. And there the two groups of soldiers stood, staring each other down for more than two months as the rhetoric in Beijing and New Delhi escalated.

Though the details of the deal that led to this week's "disengagement" were not made public jointly, according to English-language media and press statements on either side, it appears India agreed to remove its troops, and China agreed to at least halt construction of the controversial road. (The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, asked directly Tuesday whether road construction had been stopped, said, "Taking into account various factors like the weather, we will make proper building plans in light of the actual situation.")

The government of Bhutan, caught uncomfortably between the superpowers, said Tuesday it "welcome[d] the disengagement by the two sides at the face-off site in the Doklam area."

"We hope this contributes to the maintenance of peace and tranquility and status quo along the borders of Bhutan, China and India in keeping with the existing agreements between the respective countries," a statement from Bhutan's foreign ministry read.

A major English-language Chinese daily, The Global Times, in an editorial urged both China and India to move on, even if the paper couldn't resist the urge to slight India a bit:

"A few Chinese perhaps are not satisfied that the crisis was settled this way. They wish the People's Liberation Army could have given India's troops a good slap," the paper said. "Indians have their own regrets. When the confrontation ended, China stressed its sovereignty and control over the Doklam area and did not make the open commitment that India had hoped for. But this is perhaps the maturity of the Asian continent. U.S. and Japanese strategists have wanted to see a long-term confrontation between China and India. While such a scenario was about to come, it eventually did not."

Have a tip or story suggestion for Code and Dagger? Click here to get in touch.

On This Day: First US-Russia 'Hot Line' Message Sent

The Many Times 'All Options' Have Been on the Table for North Korea